Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

– in the House of Lords at 8:05 pm on 8th February 2000.

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House again in Committee on Clause 2.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 8:17 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 2, line 4, at end insert ("and

( ) training suitable to the requirements of employers as expressed by employers and through their training organisations").

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour

In moving Amendment No. 31 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 41. Amendment No. 31 relates to people under 19 and Amendment No. 41 relates to people over 19, but the subject of the two amendments is the same. Indeed, we touched upon this matter when we were debating Amendment No. 11.

I remind Members of the Committee that at Second Reading I welcomed this Bill as an important initiative to provide education and training at college and at work. During that debate many speakers, including the Minister, referred to the shortage of skills and education at work and how that was holding back our economy. Everyone agreed that training would make our companies more competitive and most of us agreed that this Bill would help.

Yet when we turn to look at the Bill, and the main duties of the learning and skills council, there is no recognition of that. Certainly the council is required to secure provision of proper facilities for education and training. Certainly the facilities have to be suitable to the requirements of people and, quite rightly, the Bill implies that the training belongs to the individuals, to the people being educated and trained.

The purpose is to provide people with the skills and education for personal development at leisure and work, for vocation and non-vocation. The council has to provide facilities for the skills that employers need. They have to be relevant. There can be expensive facilities for training engineers and technicians as well as less expensive ones for training, shall we say, hairdressers and journalists.

How best can we ensure that the facilities are relevant? It seems to me quite obvious. Surely it is to involve employers and their training organisations. The purpose of this amendment is to put that on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 8:30 pm, 8th February 2000

Improving the employability of young people and adults will be a major feature of our new arrangements. We recognise that the training needs of employers, including an adaptable workforce which has the capacity and opportunity to learn new skills, must influence the way in which the council exercises its main duties. We have made it clear that employers will have a major say on the council itself and its local arms, and that it must be responsive to the needs of employers. The local and national council planning arrangements, informed by RDAs, will need to take that on board.

Employers, therefore, will have plenty of opportunities to ensure that their voice is heard. In particular, national training organisations have already made proposals as to how they intend to form close, practical links with the national and local LSCs to help to ensure that their work is "earthed" in the sectoral training needs. I welcome and very much applaud their ideas.

However, employers have their own responsibilities for developing and training their employees in the workplace. There is a balance to be drawn between what should be funded by the state and what is the responsibility of employers. We need to recognise that. We welcome the contribution of employers, who spend very substantial amounts in this area.

We also have to look carefully at the actual effects of these amendments. They would make the council statutorily responsible for all employee training and then leave the judgment of what is necessary to employers and not the council. That goes too far. We expect employers to continue to be responsible for their own workforce training and not expect to substitute state funding for such activity.

For these reasons, I cannot support the amendments. However, I would like to consider an alternative way of reflecting the point that my noble friend Lord Haskel has made with these amendments. There is a good case for the Bill including a specific reference that the learning and skills council, in performing its duties, should take account of the skill needs of different sectors of employment. Such an amendment would also reflect the important role of NTOs which serve the needs of particular employment sectors. Many Members of the Committee have referred to the important role that they play. With the assurance that I will bring forward an appropriate amendment to reflect this point, I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw these amendments today.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour

I am grateful to my noble friend for suggesting that there will be specific reference to the skills and needs of different sectors. I look forward to seeing her amendment. I believe that it will do exactly the same as my amendment. I beg leave to withdraw that amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 2, line 8, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

At Second Reading I drew attention to the differences between Clauses 2 and 3 and the weasel words "sufficient", "adequate" and "reasonable". I promised to come back to the matter and I now keep my promise. In moving this amendment, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 39, 43, 44 and 50. I believe that Amendment No. 42 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, is partly taken up by my Amendment No. 43. Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing his contribution if he wishes to make one.

As currently drafted, the distinction between Clauses 2 and 3 suggests that while provision for 16 to 18 year-olds should meet demand and be of the highest possible quality, that for adults should be dependent on the finances available to the council not only as regards quantity but also quality. Given the commitment to wider participation, it is a case of "never mind the quality, feel the width".

The volume may vary between provision for those aged between 16 and 19 years and those over 19, but it should always be of the highest quality for both. We reject the distinction between the two. The purpose of Amendment No. 50 in particular is to try to ensure that whatever the difference may have to be in quantity, the quality is adequate to meet the needs of individual learners.

We are also concerned about the definition of the word "reasonable" in Clause 3. Are the Government able to define it a little more clearly? Do they intend that the word should be backed by guidance as to what it means? For instance, the third report of the skills taskforce argues for an entitlement for 19 to 24 year-olds up to level three and for an entitlement for adults up to level two. In her report the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, argued for an entitlement to level three for all, recognising that that level is often the trigger to independent learning for adults.

It would be helpful if the Government identified an entitlement to level three for adults as an aspiration to be achieved over time. In the meantime it would certainly be helpful if they could identify minima for what is reasonable provision, without which their national target for participation by adults is unlikely to be achieved.

Currently there is a fifty-fold difference in range, volume and investment in adult learning between the best and the worst served areas. Without any guidance on what is reasonable, the situation is unlikely to change quickly enough to achieve the aspirations of the White Paper. I hope that the Minister will help us to understand the Government's understanding of the meaning of "reasonable". I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative

I shall confine my remarks to Amendments Nos. 39 and 42. In Clause 2 there is provision for "proper facilities". In Clause 3 there is provision for "reasonable facilities". The distinction is rather stark. If we wish to establish lifelong learning we do not want to have a cut-off point where at the age of 19 a person moves from one grade to another. Obviously, the grade below that for the age of 19 will include many facilities which will not be available afterwards. We do not wish to proceed from one standard of judgment to a quite different one.

The meaning of the words "reasonable" and "proper" must have been debated many times in this Chamber. I do not know what the answers have been. However, it appears very strongly to me that proper facilities will be provided up to a certain age but after that they will just be reasonable, which is very unfortunate. There appears to be a conflict with the objective we all have to achieve lifelong learning and teaching.

Photo of The Bishop of Lichfield The Bishop of Lichfield Bishop

I wish to stress generally that I speak for all the Churches in giving strong support for the whole thrust of this Bill. Its major restructuring has been widely welcomed. As a bishop coming from the West Midlands, I particularly welcome the siting of the new council in Coventry.

It is important that the Bill engages the whole community. I shall be grateful to receive help from the noble Baroness on the meaning of "reasonable" and "proper" in Amendments Nos. 42 and 43. The concern behind this is that the Bill should engage--indeed, we are jealous for it to do so--with the whole community, if the Government are to achieve their objective. Therefore, it is imperative that every encouragement is given to the churches, voluntary organisations and faith communities within the local community. Without further guidance as to what the word "reasonable" means, there could perhaps be a danger of slippage and important partners in this whole process being missed.

Being rooted in local communities, Churches and faith communities have long experience of the effectiveness of community work and this is well known. However, perhaps it is not so well known that the Churches ecumenically sponsor something called the "Churches' Further Education Beacon Award for Sustainable Community Development". We are delighted that the winning college, Dunstable (announced last November by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, at the annual conference in Harrogate of the Association of Colleges) had worked with the Churches in Luton and Dunstable to offer an innovative carpentry and joinery programme called, New Opportunities and Horizons (NOAH). This programme is a good example--there could be many others--and is attractive to a very wide cross-section of the local community. In this particular scheme, single parents, graduates, homeless people and people with learning difficulties were brought together through the programme in the process of developing new skills.

The Churches and other faith communities are glad to invest not only their physical plant, but also, as I said earlier when speaking of truancy workers in the Black Country, the energy and commitment of paid and voluntary workers in the community for capacity building. The evidence shows that much of this local activity, though sometimes small-scale, is highly effective in transforming people's life and performance. Therefore, guidance affirming the distinctive contribution of Churches, faith communities and voluntary organisations in developing neighbourhoods would be welcome to the constituency for which I speak. I wonder whether the Minister could help us with this by giving us guidance on this matter, which I have raised in connection with these amendments. I should stress that this is in the broad context of strong support for the Bill.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this series of amendments. Amendments Nos. 39, 42 and 43 would extend to all adults the entitlement that we have provided for young people. They cover the same principles that were explored to some extent by Amendments Nos. 25 and 26. My noble friend Lady Blackstone has already set out the Government's position in respect of the balance between Clauses 2 and 3. However, perhaps I may add something to that response.

The difference in words between the two clauses is intentional. The distinction between them is as follows. There is an entitlement at the ages of 16 to 19, but no government could enter an absolute guarantee to adults in the same way. This Government are extremely in favour of adult education and their record speaks very highly indeed for itself. However, for any government to pretend that resources were absolutely unlimited and that, therefore, they could do for adults exactly what they were going to do for 16 to 19 year-olds would be foolish; and, indeed, I venture to say, would not be believed by noble Lords and those outside this place.

I turn now to the meaning of words. I should point out that I am doing my best here, because the meanings of these words may one day be interpreted in the courts of our land--who knows! The word "proper" in Clause 2 means quantity to meet the needs of individuals and of adequate quality; in other words, an entitlement, an objective test. Then we have the word "reasonable". This is the second time within a week that I have been faced with defining or discussing this word. As I said on the previous occasion, anyone who has been involved in the law for any length of time will know that it is tempting to try to define the word "reasonable", but the detail of it is always so difficult. However, I shall do my best.

In the sense of Clause 3, "reasonable" means that if they are of a quality and quantity that the LSC can provide from its resources--again, an entitlement which applies to those aged 16 to 19--there will be something slightly less for those over 19. I am not talking about an intention not to put funds into adult education--indeed, that would be completely against this Government's intentions--but it is not quite the same. That is why the distinction between Clauses 2 and 3 is important.

Of course we recognise that those needs, abilities and aptitudes do not suddenly change over night on a person's 19th birthday. No one would expect a young person part way through a GNVQ not to be allowed to complete his or her course. Likewise, nothing in these provisions prevents learners continuing their education. My noble friend gave that assurance when she addressed earlier amendments.

The amendments now before the Committee go further than the earlier ones with the commensurate implications for public spending. For that and other reasons I have attempted to give, I invite noble Lords to withdraw their amendments. In short, they seek a commitment that no government could possibly give.

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative 8:45 pm, 8th February 2000

I thank the Minister for giving way. Is he saying that the word "proper" means that no matter what the consequences are and no matter what the budget may be, those needs will be met? Is he also saying that "reasonable" means that the facilities will be available only if funds happen to be there?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The noble Lord uses his own words; they are not mine. I was careful in the words that I chose. I prefer to say that there is an "entitlement" for those between 16 and 19 and to say that the LSC will do all that it can in relation to those who are over the age of 19. However, it cannot give to them the entitlement which applies to those between the ages of 16 and 19.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 32, 44 and 50. Improving quality for all learners, whatever their ages and whatever they may be studying, is a priority. That is why quality has been made an integral part of the council's main duties. I contrast that--I hope, gently--with the arrangements made by the previous government for the further education funding councils. There is no reference to quality in relation to the provision to be funded by those bodies. All they are required to do is assess quality; there is no requirement to do anything about it afterwards.

We know from reports of the inspectorates with responsibility for this key post-16 learning--Ofsted, the FEFC and the TSC--that much of post-16 education and training is of good quality. But there remain too many examples of weak provision. No particular sector is exempt. There are examples of poor quality provision made by private and voluntary providers, sixth forms and further education colleges. We are quite clear that all provision must be at least satisfactory and continuously improving. We want to promote excellence in all post-16 provision. We want to raise standards in post-16 provision, just as we have done in schools.

We do not make any distinction between different age ranges in our aims for improving quality. Nothing in this Bill requires quality for adults to be lower than that for young people or implies that it should be. Indeed, many providers would find the concept unimaginable and impractical because their provision meets the needs of all age ranges alongside each other. Nor will the common inspection framework be constructed on such an artificial basis. We expect quality to be equally high for all. That is why quality is not separated out as an add-on duty. We say that it must be integral to the core functions of the LSC. I hope I have persuaded Members of the Committee to withdraw their amendments.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that the distinction between Clause 2 and Clause 3 is intentional. It had never occurred to me that it might be an accident! I rather thought that it probably was intentional. I wanted to draw attention to precisely that. I think I am right in saying that in a former life the Minister was a lawyer, and perhaps still is a lawyer. That may be why he was especially careful in attempting to define the words we were discussing.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Once a lawyer, always a lawyer!

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I shall resist commenting. The Minister will know more about that than I. Perhaps that is why he was so careful in trying to define the words that we discussed. He was so careful in trying to define "reasonable" that I may not be the only person who is not much wiser than when the debate began. The Minister's former colleagues may test the definition of "reasonable" in years to come.

I am grateful for the Minister's comments on quality. I am sure they will offer some reassurance as we are all concerned that quality in provision must apply regardless of the age of the person who is receiving the provision. We shall ponder what the Minister has said and the distinctions he has drawn and consider the matter further. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 2, line 17, leave out ("best") and insert ("most cost effective").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I have been thrown completely because I understood that when we discussed the distinction between "reasonable" and "proper" earlier we would receive a reply to that matter with Amendment No. 34. I shall return to the fray as I would have spoken to this group of amendments had I known what the Minister was going to say.

We are now talking about resources and their use. I return to what I said earlier; namely, that we all, certainly governments, operate in the real world. We all know that there is no area of central or local government spending that is not restricted by the amount of resources available. It is important to ascertain right at the beginning whether there is no restriction as regards the provision in Clause 2 as opposed to the provision in Clause 3. We have tried to ascertain the difference between "proper" and "reasonable". I believe that more honesty is now entering the debate. When responding to the previous group of amendments the Minister mentioned an entitlement. There is no question of flexibility here because so far the Government have not given one inch on that. There is a cut-off point at the age of 19. There is a different obligation as regards those over the age of 19. We all hope that a person will complete a course; it is unlikely that someone will not. However, someone may be "picked up", as it were, at the age of 20, but the council has a different obligation towards such a person as opposed to the age group mentioned in Clause 2.

Earlier the noble Baroness mentioned the number of young people who will enter further education. There is an absolute obligation under the Bill to provide proper facilities and arrangements for a young person under the age of 19 who requires provision. However, there is no blank cheque available. My noble friend Lord Boardman tried to tease out that point. The council or providers have no blank cheque. However, those under the age of 19 will have the first call on the money that is available. Anyone over the age of 19, whatever their situation, can have only a reasonable expectation of provision funded by the money that is left over. That is the only way the system can work as it was explained by the noble Lord. He said time and time again that for people up to the age of 19 there is an entitlement to provision. Under Clause 3 of the Bill those over 19 have an entitlement to expect only "reasonable" provision, assuming that there is money left in the coffers to provide that.

The Government cannot say that they will meet everyone's needs and aspirations--I refer also to young people with special needs--if there is to be a distinction as between those under and over the age of 19. I understand that there is no bottomless pit of money available. All governments when in office realise quickly that there are constraints on the amounts of money that can be spent at any level of government. I believe that those over the age of 19 will comprise as many needy cases as among those in the 16 to 19 age group. There will be no opportunity to determine priorities at a local level because under Clause 2 the council will have an obligation to provide an absolute entitlement to 16 to 19 year-olds. Under Clause 3 the needs of those over the age of 19 will be met with the provision of reasonable facilities if there is money left over with which to do that.

I understand that my noble friend Lord Pilkington has given the Minister notice that he intends to speak to Amendment No. 35 with Amendments Nos. 36 and 158. My Amendment No. 34 to Clause 2 seeks to replace the word "best" with the words "cost effective". I am not sure that anyone knows what "best" means. I believe that the most important concept here is to make the most effective use of resources. I am tempted to seek to insert the words,

"the most cost effective and the most operationally effective".

One could have simply "the most effective" or "the most cost effective" if the matter is assessed purely on cost. However, it is not always merely a question of the best value for money, in that operational considerations may also need to be taken into account. However, I believe that it is better to include either the words "the most cost effective" or the,

"most cost and operationally effective", use of the council's resources rather than simply a reference to the "best use of resources". This issue also arises in Clause 3. My Amendment No. 46 seeks to remove the words in Clause 3(3)(d),

"and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

What do those words mean? Do they refer to wasteful expenditure? Sometimes expenditure can be disproportionate if one has to meet the needs of someone with very special needs. The cost of that is disproportionate when compared to the resources that one might allocate to someone who has no special needs whatsoever and is simply doing a straightforward course which requires no special provision to be made. However, to invite the council to avoid disproportionate expenditure might militate against making complicated provision for someone with multiple disabilities. That is extremely misleading. If one accepts that councils must make the most effective use of resources, that leaves them free to make judgments about where expenditure should be incurred and to make professional judgments about the particular needs of young people that have to be met, even if that involves incurring disproportionate expenditure within an allocated budget.

I hope that the noble Lord will accept that there is still much anxiety with regard to the cut-off point at the age of 19; the lack of flexibility on the part of the council to make judgments with regard to the needs of those over and under the age of 19; to make its own judgment about whether needs should be met; and to make its own judgment about use of resources, as long as such use is considered by those who judge it externally to be effective use of its funds to meet both the operational and the cost effective restraints upon it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 9:00 pm, 8th February 2000

As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, will speak to the next grouping of amendments.

The Bill fulfils our commitment to give an entitlement--I use the word again--to education and training for all young people over compulsory school age up until their 19th birthday. For the first time there will be a unified statutory entitlement for all young people in this age group, rather than the fragmented arrangements that everyone agrees have applied up until now. This will apply to young people whatever route they take after compulsory education--whether it be through a school sixth form, the further education sector or the work-based route.

I turn now to Amendment No. 34. I shall deal with Amendment No. 35 at a later stage. I am sure that we all expect the LSC to use the public funds placed at its disposal to achieve the maximum benefit for pupils and for students. This provision is concerned with requiring the council to do that. We expect the council to deliver excellent value for money. Value for money is achieved through balancing three different elements, the three "Es"--economy, efficiency and effectiveness. In our view, this is expressed most succinctly through the word "best", although it is possible that other formulations may be used to achieve the same effect. Indeed, the expression "best value" is not unknown to the Committee: regulations with that title were passed through this House 24 hours ago.

However, the Government have concerns about the particular formulation "most cost effective". Under the previous government we saw the effects of a "pile it high, sell it cheap" approach to further education and the disastrous effects of demand-led funding. It may have been cost effective but the impact on quality and the financial health of colleges was, at the very least, worrying. To focus on cost to the exclusion of quality would be wrong. The Government place great emphasis on the improvement of standards right across the education service. We expect a balanced approach to the use of public money and we believe that the present wording achieves this.

Turning to Amendment No. 46, apart from fulfilling our commitment to give an entitlement to education and training for all young people over compulsory school age up until their 19th birthday, we have brought together the duty to make education and training available for adults. We expect the council to use the public funds made available to it in the best possible way. However, the potential effect of Amendment No. 46 would be to require the LSC, in making provision of all types, to disregard excessive cost and the economic use of the very substantial public funds to be placed at its disposal.

Of course the council must ensure that reasonable facilities are available to adults wherever they may be receiving their education and training. That may be expensive. These provisions do not restrict the council's ability to fund expensive provision--we would be concerned if they did, especially if that impacted on the provision needed by the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community--but to disregard value for money in the use of public funds would be wrong, not least because excessive expenditure on one comes only at the expense of the learning opportunities for another or through the LSC exceeding the budget voted to it by Parliament.

When we consider the matters raised, quite fairly, by the noble Baroness at the outset in moving the amendments--she thought that the discussion would take place on these amendments rather than on the preceding amendment--it is essential to remember that all entitlements--even the entitlement to a free education up until the age of 16-- depend to some extent on the resources available. As the noble Baroness rightly said, with her great experience of both local government and of national government, whoever is in charge of government has to decide what resources are placed in what fields. We repeat that the entitlement will be for 16 to 19 year-olds, but we expect the additional resources we are devoting to post-16 learning to allow access to learning for all those who need it.

Money is available for adult education depending on the resources made available by government. This Government, unlike their predecessor, have demonstrated their commitment to adult learning. Perhaps I may give one figure, which will be well known to most of your Lordships. We are spending £2 billion in the financial year 2001-02, up from £1.6 billion in 1998-99. We believe in lifelong learning, but we would be foolish if we expected the Bill to cover every aspect of adult education.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

With regard to the last statistic used by the Minister, of course the number of students has gone up so one would expect the expenditure to go up if one is to keep pace with the number of students. The Government have said that not only are there more students since that time but there are to be more this year, next year and through to 2002. Expenditure per student will be static even if more money is put into the budget and, therefore, the quality of provision to the individual student may only be sustained by an injection of even more money.

The Minister mentioned the words "best value"--which is the argument used by the noble Lord--but the words are not on the page; there it simply says "best use of resources". As to the Minister's criticism that "cost effective" is too narrow, he will remember that when I spoke to the amendments I argued that there is another dimension to this matter; that is, operational effectiveness. I concede that sometimes cost effectiveness is not the only consideration for getting the best possible value for money from a service. Indeed, I lobbied my own government when competitive tendering was introduced and won the argument that we should not be pressed to accept the lowest possible tender on the grounds that the lowest tender might not, in the long term, offer the best value for money and that it would be better to pursue best value. Therefore, if the Minister was hinting that the Government would put into the Bill either "value for money" or "best value" as a counter to my proposed "most cost effective" and/or "operationally effective", I should be more content. I am certainly not content with simply, "best use".

The Minister kindly returned to the issue of the distinction between "proper" and "reasonable". Again, as I understand it, there will be no flexibility for local authorities under the Bill. The Government have quite rightly taken pride--and I shall not in any way criticise them for this--in the fact that they have strengthened the obligation of providers and the Government to young people up to the age of 19. They have set out in legislation that proper provision will be made for young people up to the age of 19--whoever they are, whatever background they are from and whatever their needs. That is an obligation in the Bill. It is a legitimate entitlement to the individual up to the age of 19.

I have said before, and I repeat, that there will be limited resources for most public authorities, including the local skills councils. Therefore, the first legitimate call on their moneys will be to meet properly the needs of all young people, including the extra numbers coming into the system that the Minister mentioned earlier. It is only when all those needs have been met that others may be considered. Even someone with severe needs who is post-19 cannot have his needs met until the outstanding needs of anyone under the age of 19 have been met.

We have been looking for two kinds of flexibility. One concerns the line between under 19 and over 19. We seek to allow some flexibility, especially for people who, for one reason or another, continue mainstream education after the age of 19. We seek also some flexibility to allow local authorities determination over their obligations to young people. Otherwise, the needs of someone just under the age of 19 who has all the wherewithal to find accommodation for further training and education outside the system may be met, while those of someone over 19 with extreme needs will not be met simply because the provision would incur disproportionate expenditure.

The Minister's answer on disproportionate expenditure simply did not stand up. There will be disproportionate expenditure on some students and rightly so, because the expenditure needed in order to meet their needs adequately will be considerable. Either normal or even below normal expenditure will be spent on others because they have the wherewithal or they have done it on their own or their needs are small. That kind of flexibility at local level is important.

If the Minister has said his last word in saying that the best term that can be mustered--I return to my criticisms--is "best use" and if "best value", or "most cost effective" plus some accommodation for "operational effectiveness" or "value for money" cannot be included, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee on Amendment No. 34.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 34) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 35; Not-Contents, 90.

Division number 3

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative 9:21 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 2, line 17, leave out from ("resources") to end of line 18.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

In moving this amendment, as I have arranged with the Minister, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 36 and other amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, has said that he will listen to my remarks on Amendments No. 158. I confess an interest: I discussed the amendment with my union, the National Association of Head Teachers, and to some extent it reflects its views on the Bill.

I return to a discussion in the early stages of this Committee. My amendment is a statement of principle. I quote my noble friend Lord Bridgeman in saying that it could guide judicial reviews.

I and other Members of the Committee are concerned about the future of school sixth forms under the new arrangements. I remind the Committee that sixth forms constitute around 60 to 70 per cent of the arrangements for 16 to 17 year-olds.

In the past, the controversial issue of closing a school sixth form involved the local authorities, which were by their very nature influenced by public opinion. Further, many local councillors were also governors of the school. Therefore, there was a direct interest between the local council and the schools under discussion.

The problem is that the direct influence of the local council is now less, both as a result of the recent Education Act, which gave great powers to the adjudicator, and also because of the extensive powers given to the new learning and skills councils, nationally and locally, particularly in the matter of money to be allocated. They are now allocating money to the sixth forms, albeit through the local education authority. Therefore, the general guidance that is given to these new and powerful bodies is of great importance.

At present, Clause 2(3)(d), in general guidance, states that the council must:

"make the best use of the Council's resources and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

That is the essence of the guidance, which would stand up if there were a judicial review of the closure of a sixth form. My Amendment No. 36 widens that guidance--I remind the Committee (for the third time) that this is to be taken into account by a court--to include the duty to,

"promote choice and diversity in the type of facilities available to persons and take account of the desirability of ensuring that persons are able to access such facilities locally and easily".

To give one example, it may mean that consideration may have to be given to small rural sixth forms, which are not always inadequate. I attended a small sixth form--a history set--in which there were four people. But that school, with its small sixth form, managed to get quite a large number of people scholarships and exhibitions to Oxford and Cambridge and was very effective. The fact that something is small does not mean that it is inadequate. My amendment means that the LSCs will have to bear these matters in mind. I suggest to the Minister that, in view of the great influence of LSCs in the allocation of money and in many other ways, it is of enormous importance that guidance other than in relation to expenditure and practicality is borne in mind when, for example, it closes a sixth form or decides that in a rural area everyone should go to a college, which economically may be more effective.

The amendment proposes that the LSC bears in mind distance; accessibility; the part that the sixth form plays in the local community; the outside activities that it provides, for example music and so on; the fact that many people between the ages of 16 and 19 may be lost in the larger environment of the college; and, finally--I repeat a point that I made at Second Reading--that good teachers may be attracted to such a school in a rural area just because there is a sixth form.

I was very grateful that, following Second Reading, the Minister wrote a letter in which she assured my noble friend Lord Baker and other noble Lords that other bodies would be consulted in this matter, such as the school organisation committee. The Minister also referred to the powers of the Secretary of State. However, the Minister is aware that this House is mistrustful of guidelines and offers by the executive of safeguards of this kind. We saw an example of that last night. Therefore, the purpose of my amendment is to ensure that there is some guidance on the face of the Bill which can be pleaded when the LSC decides these matters. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman, who has much more experience of these matters, said that these matters were terribly important in the context of judicial review. We all know that executives hate judicial reviews. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The Committee appreciates the noble Lord's concerns about sixth forms in schools which he expressed during Second Reading. I re-read his speech this morning. I remind the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made quite clear--I repeat it now--the value that he attaches to the best school sixth forms and that nothing we do should jeopardise them. He has also made it clear that the Government should protect the funding of school sixth forms in real terms as long as numbers do not fall. However, we believe that the potential effect of Amendment No. 35 is to require the learning and skills council to disregard excessive cost in making provision of all types, not just in sixth forms, and hinder the economic use of the very substantial public funds to be placed at its disposal. The council must ensure that proper facilities are available to all young people, wherever they may receive their education and training, and that they are suitable to their requirements. However, to impair the effective use of public funds would be wrong, not least because excessive expenditure on one person could come only at the expense of the learning opportunities for others, or through the LSC exceeding the budget voted to it by Parliament. That attempts to deal with Amendment No. 35. While appreciating the concerns of the noble Lord, we say that his amendment is not acceptable.

As regards Amendment No. 36, to which he has also just spoken, our arrangements for 16 to 19 year-old education are extremely diverse and already provide a wide range of opportunities at local level. Young people can study in further education and tertiary colleges, sixth-form colleges, school sixth forms or in employment. There are over 400 colleges in the further education sector, including over 100 sixth-form colleges. There are about 1,800 schools with sixth forms. There are some 3,000 other providers currently funded through the TECs. Nothing in this Bill will restrict this diversity, which we expect to retain in order to match the varying needs of young people.

Nevertheless we recognise the need to ensure that we have the right balance and mix of provision for young people. Our proposals are intended to open up new opportunities for them, to ensure that we maximise participation in learning, improve retention and ensure that provision is responsive to the needs of individuals and employers. That is why the local councils of the LSC in England will have discretion to secure the right balance and mix of post-16 provision in their areas and the resources to deliver this. It will remain open to LEAs and other promoters to bring forward proposals not only for the creation of new sixth forms, if they judge there to be a need, but also for new LEA-maintained 16 to 19 institutions. We are also removing obstacles to collaboration between colleges and schools so that schools can draw upon the expertise which colleges have to offer, particularly in making vocational provision.

Our new arrangements are intended to support and encourage a pluralistic and diverse education and training system. How could it be otherwise, if provision is to meet the needs of our young people? I hope that those remarks will go some way towards reassuring the noble Lord, and I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 9:30 pm, 8th February 2000

Before the noble Lord decides what to do, perhaps I may comment. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for raising the issue. I know he has a great concern about the future of school sixth forms. I know, too, that he is not the only one to have that concern, and I welcome the assurances that the Government have given and continue to give. I accept entirely that they mean what they say.

It is for the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to say, but I think the purpose of his second amendment is not to challenge that there is choice and diversity now, but rather to ensure that there remain choice and diversity in the provision of post-16 education. In that we would strongly support him. I particularly welcome, as the Minister has just said, the provision for collaboration between school sixth forms and FE colleges--collaboration rather than competition--that has existed up to now and, I have to say, I believe has been in the worst rather than the best interests of the learners.

I was less happy with the response to Amendment No. 35. If it were to be carried, Clause 2(3)(d) would read,

"make the best use of the Council's resources".

The Minister seemed to be saying that that would then mean that the LSC could disregard excessive costs. I wonder whether he could explain that. Perhaps I am just being stupid, but could he explain how making the best use of the council's resources would enable it at the same time to disregard excessive costs? It seems to me that making the best use of the council's resources means that you must have regard to excessive costs, however you might choose to define them. It seems to me, especially given the definitions we have had earlier today, that the inclusion of the words which the noble Lord is seeking to delete actually encourages his suspicions and fears, rather than discourages them.

I hope that I have given the Minister enough time to explain to me how making best use of the council's resources is consistent with disregarding excessive costs, which apparently he thinks that it would then be able to do.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I wish to continue that point. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was unable to support us in the Lobby if only to give us another chance to return on another day to what is or is not best use of resources. An auditor will have to judge the council's spending against the word "best". In whose view is it judged best? Is it that of the Government, the national council, or the local council? In that case it is its own local independent judgment and may conflict with the view of the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, used the word "excessive". The arguments apply equally to "disproportionate". There will be legitimate uses of excessive expenditure or disproportionate expenditure which would be approved by Secretaries of State, the national council, local councils and all of us. The idea that they are not allowed to incur disproportionate expenditure is a real constraint. The word "best" needs qualifying by the word "value" or some reference to operational effectiveness. That expression is jargonistic and is used by management consultants but it refers to the best possible cost effective service. The word "best" does not express that.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The word "disproportionate" does not rule out expensive expenditure, if I may use that phrase. However, on the face of the Bill it obliges the LSC to take into account wasteful expenditure. That seems to us a sensible precaution. I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, makes such a fuss about it. It seems a perfectly ordinary, normal provision to put on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am pleased to have caused the Minister a little surprise at this time of night. I made no reference to the word "disproportionate". I picked the noble Lord up on his use of the words "excessive costs". The Minister said that if the amendment were passed it would mean that the LSC could disregard excessive cost. My question may be too simple but it is straightforward. How is it consistent that the LSC can disregard excessive costs--I refer to the Minister's words--while at the same time making the best use of the council's resources? If I am being stupid--although I see nods around me which suggest that I am not the only stupid person in the Chamber--perhaps the Minister (who has had several notes passed from the box) will explain what he means.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I shall try again to explain the issue to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Amendment No. 35 would remove the words that appear in the 1992 Act. They occasioned comment then that they might prevent further education councils from funding provision. The then government spokesman--it was not me; nor was it the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but someone in government at that time--made the following statement: that the intention was,

"expenditure which is out of proportion to what is being provided for in regard to the discharge of the main duties".

The spokesman continued:

"It does not prohibit provision that is needed but rather provision that is unnecessary".

I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

If it is a subjective view of the council, does it mean that if a person with a learning disability was incurring a great deal of excess expenditure, that would not be considered disproportionate to the effect that that education would have on that person?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

As so often, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is quite right; that is what I am saying here. Such expenditure, simply because it happened to be very expensive, would not immediately be considered to be disproportionate. Proportionality is the clue to this issue.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I believe that there has been a disproportionate use of words here. When responding to the previous amendment, the Minister made it quite clear that his definition of "best value" excluded disproportionate expenditure. It now seems to me that it is unnecessary for these words to be included and that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is entirely correct.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

I thank the Minister for his reply and also thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and my noble friend Lady Blatch for their support. It perplexes me, the innocent that I am, that the executive puts forward the most noble opinions from the Front Bench, but when we poor fellows in Opposition ask for those opinions to be put onto the face of the Bill, it will argue over how many angels can dance on a pin. All I am asking for here is allocation of resources and care for diversity but, like the Government's predecessors--I was not a member of the previous government, but all executives are alike--pinning them down causes them terror. However, I shall be back to harry the Government. Believe me, the next amendment will be even nastier. But for the moment I shall withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Education and training for persons over 19]:

[Amendments Nos. 39 to 49 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 50 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Encouragement of education and training]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 51:

Page 3, line 19, at end insert ("appropriate to their needs").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sorry that I stopped the flow. I shall speak only to Amendment No. 51, the first in this grouping. It adds to the end of Clause 4(a), "appropriate to their needs".

I was reminded of a young man I met not long ago in the north-east, an area in which I was involved as a Minister, who said to me, "If they send me on that course one more time, I will scream". He was not able to get a job, mainly because in his area there were no jobs available to him. However, he kept being sent on courses that were of no interest to him and that were not furthering his skills and aptitude.

What that young man needed to secure one of the jobs available reasonably near to where he lived were skills matched to the needs of the skills requirements in that area. It was not the case that there were no jobs, only that the young man was not being equipped and fitted for those jobs. The courses that he wanted to take were not made available to him. If we are to make sense of the Bill, then the council must encourage individuals to undergo post-16 education and training--there is no argument about that. However, if it is to be fruitful and to properly equip young people for the particular jobs available in their area, that education and training need to be appropriate to their needs. I believe that this is a simple amendment. It is a totally cost-free amendment for the Government and it would be quite heartening if it could be accepted. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I rise from these Benches to support the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her amendment. I endorse entirely what she has said. There are many occasions when people are sent, so to speak, on inappropriate courses, and I believe that it is useful that we have the word "appropriate" on the face of the Bill.

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 52, which is a probing amendment. It refers to "qualifying learning accounts" or what in common parlance are now known as "individual learning accounts". We shall consider those later in the Bill under Clauses 93 and 94. I should like to raise this point because, as envisaged in the various Green and White Papers that have preceded the Bill and above all perhaps in the report on further education by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the idea was that contributions would be made into such accounts by the three partners to post-16 training and education; namely, the individual, his or her employer and the Government.

This amendment seeks to point out the kind of framework which the Government are considering setting up for the individual learning accounts. Do they envisage that employers should finance training via individual learning accounts or more directly? Is payment to be made to the individual? If employers are to make payments into such individual learning accounts, what about the Government? Will they, as another partner or stakeholder, also pay into such individual learning accounts?

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

I associate myself with these amendments. I believe that it is important not only that we provide what is appropriate for their needs but also that young people themselves can have a say in what they believe is appropriate.

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative

I wish to speak to Amendment No. 54 which is being discussed in this group of amendments. The amendment seeks to,

"encourage persons to provide post-16 education and training".

Under the Bill as it stands, the council must encourage individuals to undergo post-16 education and training, encourage employers to participate and encourage employers to contribute to the costs. It leaves out the potential field of the valuable assistance that can be received from people who are neither employees, nor individuals undergoing training, nor employers who are contributing to costs. I believe that they form an important part.

That is particularly so in days when learning markets are changing so rapidly--when the whole issue of e-commerce and so on can open up vast opportunities. It is a vast, expanding market for learning skills. It may be right to encourage the assistance that one can receive from third parties outside who will welcome a group of young people to be trained in those fields. They should not be overlooked. Therefore, we should encourage them. My amendment proposes to encourage them in the list of those who participate.

Photo of Lord Wade of Chorlton Lord Wade of Chorlton Conservative

I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 55 and 56, both of which are supported by the TEC National Council. The purpose of Amendment No. 55, which adds the point to,

"encourage links between education and business", is to draw attention to what could be a great increase in demand for new and innovative ways of educating people. We are all aware of the need to build a demand structure within education so that the right business opportunities can respond to that demand. Quite clearly, the opportunities for investing in infrastructure which relate to the supply of information, learning and teaching will be important, as will be the use of the new technologies that are now available. I believe that we should consider an overhaul of the rigidities which are now often within the system. The learning market is open to a whole range of new opportunities.

So the purpose of the amendment is to draw attention to what could be an exciting development in education, particularly for the people we are talking about. It also encourages business and education to come together so that business can be encouraged to provide new opportunities.

The other amendment draws attention to the role that employers can play and inserts after the word "persons" in line 26 the words "including employers". It is important to keep businessmen involved in such matters and they should be supportive of the new councils. We have to understand the role that employers can play in teaching. Many people learn from their first employers the skills which give them a successful life. Those employers teach and train them effectively and create the disciplines and the excitement of working in new areas. The role that employers can play, have played and will continue to play if given the right encouragement in the new arrangements needs to be recognised.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I turn first to Amendment No. 51, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Our visions of a lifelong learning society will require us to overcome our nation's history of low levels of demand for education and training, both from individuals--particularly adults--and from employers--especially small firms. Often that is because people simply do not recognise the links between learning and skills on the one hand and economic success and personal fulfilment on the other.

The clause places a specific duty on the LSC to promote lifelong learning by encouraging people to undertake education and training. It is self-evident that the LSC will not succeed in that challenge if it encourages people to undertake learning which is not relevant to their needs. Indeed, it would not be reasonable for the LSC to promote learning which was anything but appropriate to the needs of individuals.

I should point out that the Bill already addresses the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The core duties of the learning and skills council under Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill refer to the provision of education and training

"suitable to the requirements of" those who receive it. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press this amendment.

Turning to Amendment No. 52 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I can assure her that the Government see individual learning accounts as one of the initiatives that will encourage employers to build on their existing levels of investment in learning and development. Employers will be key in promoting learning accounts to their employees and will be encouraged, where appropriate, to contribute to their learning accounts and to provide advice, guidance and other workplace support.

In answer to the questions raised by the noble Baroness, I point out that the framework is entirely voluntary. We shall encourage employers to contribute to learning accounts, but we shall not force them.

Clause 10 sets out the roles that the LSC will or may have in relation to individual learning accounts, including its power to promote learning accounts with individuals, employers, and other key stakeholders. Learning accounts are only one of many strands of this Government's vision of a lifelong learning society where responsibility for learning is shared, among others, by government, employers and individuals. Therefore, in this case we believe that it is unnecessary, indeed inappropriate, to specify learning accounts in Clause 4.

I turn to Amendment No. 54, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Boardman. I make it clear that the LSC will support and develop the provision of post-16 learning of all types. Its aim will be to develop a network of well-managed and innovative providers, capable of identifying and responding to the needs of learners and employers.

For the first time we will have a single planning and funding system which brings together previously separate strands of provision. Through the local learning partnerships we will encourage all providers to work together more effectively for the benefit, we hope, of individuals and employers.

Local LSCs will also promote imaginative arrangements with providers, designed for example to meet the needs of particular groups such as women returners and learners from ethnic minorities. That will include the greater use of on-line learning through the University for Industry.

Those are all important objectives of the new system. But they are encompassed already by the LSC's duty to make proper and reasonable provision and by its powers to fund providers. We argue that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, is not needed in the circumstances of the explanation that I have attempted to give.

Finally, I turn to the two amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Wade. First, Amendment No. 55. We made clear in the prospectus that improving the links between business and schools will be yet a further way that the local LSCs will drive up the availability and quality of provision for young people. We have said that we want to build on the excellent work of EBPs and other local organisations to encourage more businesses and the wider community to support schools, working closely with local learning partnerships.

In accordance with the Government's wish to further strengthen those links, Clause 8 of the Bill gives the LSC powers to secure provision of work experience for those in the last two years of compulsory schooling and those in post-compulsory education up to the age of 19; and also to provide for educational business links for young people in education or training from any age up to the age of 19. Linked to that, Clause 4 places a duty on the LSC to encourage employers to participate in the delivery of post-16 education and training.

Secondly, I turn to Amendment No. 56. Clause 5 details the main powers of the LSC, but only addresses in broad terms the range of activities that the LSC can fund. This again, if I may coin a phrase, is intentional. We do not believe that it would be helpful to specify a particular group or organisation as it would be an impossible task to capture in legislation the full range of organisations that could contribute to what we hope will become the learning age. Even if that were feasible, it might constrain the LSC in encouraging new providers to come forward.

Important issues have been raised by this series of amendments. We believe they are adequately addressed in our proposals. Thus, the amendment, although welcome and subject to a good short debate, is not needed. We invite the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch to withdraw it.

Photo of Lord Wade of Chorlton Lord Wade of Chorlton Conservative

Before the noble Lord sits down, let me say that in relation to Amendment No. 55 my point in regard to business and education was not just in terms of relationships, working together and so on. It related also to the contribution that business can make to education in stimulating more innovative ways of using new technologies to educate people that they may not be employing themselves, but which they can develop with others. I did not feel that the noble Lord addressed that part of my point.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The Government accept absolutely that it is a crucial and key role for business to play and I suspect it is one that it has begun to play already.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 10:00 pm, 8th February 2000

I thank the noble Lord for referring back to the reference in both Clauses 2 and 3 in relation to education which is,

"suitable to the requirements of such persons".

There is little difference between that and "appropriate to their needs". I accept therefore that the Minister makes a good point.

But there is another nuance about the need to be a young person. Sometimes what may be suitable for them may not be what is appropriate in terms of not just their own needs but of getting them into the workforce. Some young people may want to do one thing, but it may not be the best kind of training if somebody is trying to guide them into the workforce. Most of us are not concerned about people who can make up their own minds. We are concerned about people who are not making appropriate decisions for themselves.

I do not argue with the Minister about the words, "appropriate for their needs". I feel that phrase would have helped because it would reinforce the point that the council, when encouraging young people, should ensure that whatever education and training they go into are appropriate to helping them into the workforce. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 52 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 3, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) promote equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people in education and training and all support services covering transition").

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

In moving Amendment No. 53, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 131 and 161. These amendments have common purpose; namely, to strengthen the duty of the learning and skills councils to ensure equality of opportunity for disabled learners. Amendment No. 53 applies to the learning and skills council, Amendment No. 131 applies to local school councils and Amendment No. 161 to Wales. I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. He is happy that we should keep Wales in an English group for the sake of progress.

The amendments are seen as necessary by the Disability Consortium on Post-16 Education and Training, which consists of Mencap, RADAR and Skill among others--I mention Skill because I have the honour to be its president and therefore have an interest to declare. Why are they necessary? I welcome the fact that the new council must have regard,

"to the needs of persons with learning difficulties", in Clause 13, but the phrase suggests a reactive rather than a proactive duty. It is the same wording that appeared in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. But it does not reflect the many changes that have happened since then with regard to disability issues.

In 1992 the legislation was a big step forward. But it still allows for different colleges to make varied provision for disabled students. There are still instances where disabled people do not gain access to further studies because their local college does not provide it. That is particularly true of students with more severe impairments. If the amendments are accepted, the new bodies will be required to ensure that all the organisations they funded were actively working towards ensuring equality of access to education and training. An awareness of the needs of disabled learners would have to inform their planning, delivery and training. The change in wording would bring the learning and skills council in line with a key recommendation of the Disability Rights Task Force; that is, that the public sector should have a statutory duty to promote the equalisation of opportunities for disabled people in the provision of services.

At a meeting last week with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and her officials, which was welcome, she said that this duty would be better placed in the forthcoming disability and education legislation. But I have a number of concerns in that regard. First, since the legislation has not yet been written we do not know that it will include this duty. I do not know whether the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Bach, can confirm that it will be written in such a way. Secondly, while we have been told that the new disability and education Bill will be introduced this Session, about which I am delighted, we have been given no indication of a timescale for implementation. It therefore seems appropriate that the duty to promote should be included in this Bill, which does have a timescale.

But most important of all, the definition of "learning difficulty" and "disability" in Clause 13, on page 7, is rightly a definition which focuses on a person's ability to access learning. It is a wider definition than the more medical one in the disability discrimination legislation. It is wider even if the recommendations of the taskforce for changes to that legislation are implemented. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to give a slightly more encouraging response than that given at the meeting or that the Government will agree to think about the matter and perhaps discuss it further. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I support the noble Baroness in moving this amendment. It encourages the distribution of information. I refer to a speech that I made earlier about information that students require which helps them to get through their tasks. It also helps the colleges to take the right action. Half of the problems in this field arise from the fact that people do not know what to do. They spend hours scrabbling through regulations and saying, "It can be done like that. That is quite easy". Everyone in this particular field must have 100 similar stories.

It may well be that the noble Baroness will say that this matter is dealt with in other legislation. It would not hurt to have it in all legislation. We talk about joined-up government and trying to get something which is coherent across the whole provision for education. I hope that we can achieve something here. I am addressing this matter because so often it has not been possible to access the information and people do not know what they are supposed to do. Repeating it will not hurt.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I believe that the noble Baroness took exception to the fact that I thought it unfortunate that we were unable to deal with young people with special educational needs at Second Reading of the Bill. The argument was put by the noble Baroness that a separate and free-standing Bill will deal with those issues. But they are inextricably linked with this Bill, hence many of the amendments today will, I am sure, also be addressed in the new Bill.

As one reads the present Bill, whatever the background of any young person or their learning needs up to the age of 19, they will have an entitlement. There will be obligation to provide properly for them. We have argued about those over the age of 19 where it becomes possible to make reasonable provision.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, is that there is a great deal of nervousness. There is some evidence that some providers are not meeting their obligations. There is a great deal in this Bill which is otiose in the sense that it should be taken as read, whereas many other issues are not. Practical reassurance would be given to people who will know that just as someone who does not have learning difficulties will have an entitlement under Clause 1 of the Bill, it is very important that they should be conscious of the fact that they are included. The word "inclusive" is much used nowadays. It is appropriate that they should be included both for an entitlement to proper provision up to the age of 19 and a reasonable provision within the resource constraints if they are over that age. It would be a good thing to put that on the face of the Bill. It is a costly option, but it is an entitlement.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

Identifying and meeting the needs of disabled people will be one of the core activities of the LSC and the CETW. I underline the fact that it will not be just a peripheral concern. The Bill places the councils under a duty to report to the Secretary of State or to the National Assembly for Wales every year on both the progress each has made in the provision of post-16 education and training for people with disabilities and their future plans for such provision. Councils will also be under a duty to have particular regard to the needs of all persons with learning difficulties and, where they are under the age of 25, they must secure boarding accommodation for them where they cannot otherwise make adequate provision.

We have paid very close attention to the need to improve the transition of people with special educational needs from school to other forms of post-16 learning. Where a person with a statement of special educational needs intends to leave school to continue in post-16 education and training, the Bill makes new provision for an assessment of his or her learning needs. Should a young person's learning difficulties become apparent only after leaving school, he or she may also benefit from such an assessment up to the age of 19.

The new ConneXions service, launched by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State last week, will have a key role in advising and supporting the transition in England. It will participate in the transitional reviews of all young people with statements of special educational needs which are undertaken by LEAs when detailed consideration of what post-16 provision would best meet their needs begins.

The new arrangements will ensure that transition planning for all those with statements of special educational needs starts at 14 and involves all local partners, the young persons themselves and their parents or carers, together with the local LSC. The LSC and the CETW will be under a duty to take account of such assessments in deciding what provision would best meet that person's needs. As I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, this is a very considerable step forward from the present situation.

None the less, I fully recognise and share the wish of Members of the Committee to ensure that learners with special needs, learning difficulties and disabilities receive the support that they need to succeed in post-16 education. I have listened carefully to the points that have been made this evening. I shall think further about whether placing the LSC under a duty to promote equality of opportunity would be helpful in addition to the measures already contained in the Bill, which I have just described. I hope to return at a later stage with an amendment. With that assurance, I trust that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for their powerful support. I also thank the Minister for her reply, which became progressively more encouraging. I am most grateful for what the Minister said and look forward to seeing her amendment. I imagine that we shall be allowed to see her amendment before the next stage. I have no hesitation in begging leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 54 and 55 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Provision of financial resources]:

[Amendment No. 56 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the other government amendments in this group. I should also point out that I shall be referring to the amendments proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lady David.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I should point out here that, for a reason beyond my ken, there is a typographical glitch or simply an error in my Amendment No. 59. My instruction for this amendment was to insert the words "and guidance". Therefore, I should be most obliged if the Minister could take it in that spirit. I believe that the same applies to Amendment No. 89, which is also tabled in my name.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying what her amendments are meant to say.

The amendments in this group all concern the powers of the LSC and the CETW in relation to the funding of information, advice and guidance services. We launched a new initiative last year to develop these services at local level, boosted by a new investment of £54 million over three years. Over time, our aim is to ensure that adults everywhere can find the support that they need to make better choices about learning and about careers. As we announced in Learning to Succeed, we intend that responsibility for planning and funding these services should lie with the LSC.

The amendments standing in my name clarify the powers of the LSC and of the CETW in the area of information, advice and guidance. They do so in two ways. First, the amendments make clear that the LSC will have the power to fund the provision of "guidance"--as well as "information and advice"--about education, training and connected matters. This is not simply a question of semantics. To practitioners in this field the terms "information", "advice" and "guidance" have well-established and precise meanings. In essence, they describe different levels of engagement between a professional adviser and a client.

It may be helpful if I give the Committee some concrete illustrations of the differences between the three terms. Let us take the example of an adult who wished to take a course in, say, horticulture. "Information" would simply tell that client what learning opportunities were available in his or her locality in the general discipline of horticulture. "Advice" would typically involve a short discussion with a professional adviser. The adviser would be able to discuss with the client, for example, which courses might be most suitable and what entry requirements might apply, as well as to "signpost" the client on to further sources of advice. "Guidance" would be an altogether more involved process, where the adviser might encourage the client to think through his or her motives for wishing to pursue a course in horticulture, to reflect on exactly what they hoped to gain from it and to relate this to their wider plans for career development.

We want the LSC to have the power to fund all these different types of provision. My noble friend Lady David raised the point with me at Second Reading and I am pleased, with these amendments, to be able to put the Government's position beyond doubt.

The amendments standing in the name of my noble friend Lady David would restrict the funding powers of the LSC so that they were exercisable only in relation to information, advice and guidance. I believe that this is also the case now--in the light of the correction that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just made--with regard to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

I return to the amendments of my noble friend Lady David, which would restrict the funding powers of the LSC so that they were exercisable only in relation to information, advice and guidance. That would mean that the LSC would be able to fund only organisations that were able to provide all three of these types of provision. I hope that the Committee will agree that such a change would not be sensible. We want as many organisations as possible to be involved in the provision of information, advice and guidance at a local level, including community and voluntary organisations, which are particularly well placed to reach out to socially disadvantaged people and to provide a high quality service at the grass roots.

Insisting that any organisations which the LSC funds must be providers of guidance, as well as of information and advice, would risk squeezing out precisely these organisations. That is not a change that we would want to see. I wrote to my noble friend Lady David after the Second Reading debate to address her concerns and make these points. I hope that my reiteration of the arguments here today will convince her that her concerns are unfounded and that she does not need to press her amendments.

The second effect of the Government's amendments would be to make clear that the LSC would have the power to fund information, advice and guidance about employment, as well as about education and training. This is an important clarification. Since the beginning of the current financial year, my department has been developing through local learning partnerships a publicly funded information, advice and guidance service for adults. That service--for which we intend the LSC to be responsible--is certainly intended to help adults make better choices about learning. The consequences of the wrong choices about learning--both for the individual and the taxpayer--can be quite serious. As we expect the number of adults involved in learning to increase significantly over the next few years, there is obviously a sound argument for ensuring that they have good access to reliable advice on the subject.

However, it is also important that the service should offer support to adults in their decisions about careers. Changes in the labour market and in the nature of work mean that people can expect to change their job much more frequently during their lifetime. That is, of course, one of the major influences on the demand for learning among adults, as all of us need to update our skills continuously through life. Therefore we want adults to have access to information, advice and guidance about learning and work and, perhaps most critically, about the relationship between the two.

For all these reasons, it is important that the LSC's funding power in this area is not too narrowly drawn and that it should extend to information, advice or guidance about employment as well as about learning. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

I should inform your Lordships that, if this amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 59.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

I thank my noble friend for what she has done in this matter, which goes back to Second Reading. She has been extremely obliging and helpful. At Second Reading I said:

"I hope that the Minister will accept an amendment to add "guidance" to the phrase ... If that cannot be agreed, as I hope that it will, can the Minister assure us that the terminology in the Bill includes access to an in-depth interview conducted by a trained adviser, which is what "guidance" means in this context?".--[Official Report, 17/1/00; col. 916.]

It is important to know what "guidance" means in this context. It is not absolutely obvious to any casual reader.

When my noble friend wrote to me and said that she was tabling an amendment to put "guidance" into the Bill I was extremely grateful. But then I was slightly disappointed when I saw that it said "or guidance" when I had hoped it would say "and guidance". I wrote to her and pointed out this matter, and I received a convincing reply in the letter that she wrote to me on 1st February.

I have tabled the amendment again because I want the Minister to explain to the Committee exactly why "or" was right and "and" was wrong. I hope she will repeat for the benefit of the Committee and to record the point in Hansard the reasons for this. I shall not be pressing my amendment. I tabled it only to draw out her response. I think that she has probably already given it.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Perhaps I was not concentrating enough, but I was concerned about "all". Certainly in my amendments I had intended it to be "and guidance". I note that in Amendment No. 87, which stands in the name of the Minister, the words "advice or guidance" appear. It would be helpful when the Minister responds--without taking too much of the Committee's time--if she could give an explanation of that.

Although the Minister, in moving the amendment, was very helpful--it is clear that there has been a very positive response to the Second Reading--one point was not covered in regard to the role of the advisory service under the new arrangements. There is some concern about what its role will be, how it will work in practice, and what will be the practical arrangements for moving from the existing system to the new arrangements.

As has been said, the term "advice about educational training or connected matters" is inadequate. It should be more than mere information. We know that many people are given only information and then left wallowing and wondering what on earth they should make of it. Too many people need their hands holding at that point, and for some young people who drop out of mainstream education very often it is the key point at which they could have been helped. Their problems might have been resolved if they had had proper guidance at that time.

So many people will require more than information. Their interests, their aptitudes and their skills need to be properly identified under a more guided and, if I may say so, independent and objective approach, without being over- prescriptive or dictatorial, in order to match their need for learning and working opportunities.

The Careers Service National Association has in fact suggested some definitions for "Information", "Advice" and "Professional guidance". I should like to place them on the record because they are worth studying. First:

"Information refers to data on learning and work opportunities conveyed through printed matter, audio visual materials or computer software, or through information officers in careers services or helpline services such as Learning Direct.

Advice refers to providing an immediate response to the needs of clients who present an enquiry or reveal a need that requires more than a straightforward information response. It is usually limited to helping with the interpretation of information, and with meeting needs already clearly understood by the client, and may or may not include signposting to a guidance interview where a more in-depth response can be provided.

Professional guidance"-- this point has been touched on by the Minister--

"reflects an in-depth interview conducted by a trained adviser which helps clients to explore a range of options, to relate information to their own needs and circumstances, and to make decisions about their career ie their progression in learning and/or work. It may or may not include psychometric assessment.

There also needs to be an indication of the criteria the LSC will use when contracting out services to provide career information, advice and guidance to ensure that the service is delivered by people who are appropriately qualified--the Institute's Register of Guidance Practitioners could be a useful quality instrument here".

That is advice from the Careers Service National Association. It would be helpful if the Minister was able to say something definitive about the role of the present Careers Service under the new arrangements.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I am relieved to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady David, is adequately satisfied that "advice or guidance" means the same as "advice and guidance" because, on the face of it, it does not sound like the same thing. I am concerned not only for the reasons explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but also for the adult guidance services where that provision is of initial key importance if the Government's concern to widen participation is to be successfully achieved.

The Guidance Council has identified the key elements of guidance. "Information or advice" does not cover the range of activities adequately. The omission of the word "guidance" from the text here is a key concern because the result will be that the local learning and skills councils will consider that they are unable to fund the guidance activities and, if the provision is "advice or guidance", they will limit themselves to advice and not provide guidance. It is important that we understand from the Minister precisely what role is seen here for adult guidance services; how extensive or discreet those services are to be; and how much continuity may be maintained. What is the role of guidance services within the local learning partnerships? I should be glad for some clarification.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady David for what she has done in encouraging the Government to bring forward the amendments. I certainly believe that the Bill has been improved as a result. She asked about guidance and I believe that I have already said a little about the differences between information, advice and guidance, as have the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp of Guildford and Lady Blatch. Guidance is of course a much more in-depth approach than simply providing information or advice. The Government intend greatly to extend services in that area as a consequence of the Bill. They are committed to improving opportunities for adults and to ensuring that they are placed in the kind of jobs that they have the potential to take up and pursue in a fulfilling way.

Until now the Careers Service has had a rather limited role in adult guidance because it has been so focused on young people, but in future, as a result of the ConneXions service--by which that part of the Careers Service's work will be taken on by a new organisation--we hope that there will be a great improvement in the availability of really good careers advice, information and guidance to adults who are either seeking a job or are dissatisfied with their present job and want advice on how to improve their position. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for setting out the views of the Careers Service National Association on this issue. They sound extremely sensible.

Perhaps I may return to the more specific question about "and" and "or". In my letter to my noble friend I said that if we have on the face of the Bill "and guidance" the LSC would only be able to provide funds in circumstances where an organisation was providing all three elements of information, advice and guidance to individuals. It could not provide funds simply for, say, the promotion of information about education and that would cut out from local partnerships those many small community and voluntary organisations that may not be able to deliver in depth guidance but have an important role in reaching out to hard-to-help groups. I am sure that all those who have spoken would want us to be able to help such groups. So, in fact, "or" is an improvement on "and", but I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it is not the same. It is an improvement for the purposes which all of us who have spoken in the debate want to pursue. I hope that that clarifies the issues that have been raised.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she refer to the role of the Careers Advisory Service? It is concerned about where it will fit into the new arrangements.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I do not think I can add a great deal to what I have said other than that there will be a continued role. It will continue to be funded and, as I said earlier, we see this as an expanding role.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful for that, but I wish to press the noble Baroness a little more. Will those who presently offer careers advice, information and guidance be the same people? Will they have a new remit or will they be given the remit under the ConneXions and under the new arrangements for advice, information and guidance to young people? Are we talking about the same professionals in the system now, who will be secure under the new arrangements? I had a sneaking suspicion that other people would be employed. I should be interested to know what will be the relationship between, for example, the personal advisers who will be newly trained and newly recruited into the service and the existing careers advisers in the system.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

We need to distinguish here between the ConneXions service, which is about providing a whole range of personal advice for young people, and the provision for adults that we are discussing in this group of amendments. The Government are funding a new £54 million programme for adult advice and guidance. The LSC will be the agency funding that guidance. Local adult information, advice and guidance partnerships will be closely linked to the local learning partnerships. But the people who are currently involved in providing that adult advice and guidance will continue to do so under the new arrangements. I hope that that clarifies the position.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sorry to press the matter, but I cannot do so at any other stage of the Bill. Does that mean that the present Careers Advisory Service will not have a role with regard to those under 19 or working with schools and young people on careers advice? Will that be contracted out to people other than those who are presently in the system and are presently doing that work?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

As I said earlier, we have to distinguish here between provision made for young people and provision made for others. The Careers Service makes most of its provision for young people. They will be subsumed under the new ConneXions service. But those careers advisers who are working in adult guidance will continue to operate in adult guidance, funded by the Government through the LSC. The same people who have been providing this information, advice and guidance will continue to operate as such.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

I am sorry to intervene again. If it were not so late, I should read quite a long extract from a letter I have received from the headmistress of Skipton High School, who is extremely anxious that the Careers Service should give her pupils the same service as it gives now. She says that those at the school could not possibly provide it themselves, and that they must have it. Many of the mainstream pupils still need the service. It will be for them as well as for adults. Will the Minister give that reassurance?

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 3, line 44, at end insert ("(including employment)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 61 and 62 not moved.]

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [Financial resources: conditions]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 63:

Page 4, line 12, after ("may") insert ("after consulting providers or their representatives and such persons as it thinks fit").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

This series of amendments falls into two distinct groups. One group, Amendments Nos. 65 to 67, relates only to the conditions under which the council might have access to the accounts and information of service providers.

Under the Bill as presently drafted, it seems that the council would have almost unlimited rights of access to all financial and other information on the part of providers. On the face of it, that would seem contrary to natural justice. These amendments therefore seek to limit the rights of access to those matters that pertain to the council's business--hence giving such access and allowing such rights as are necessary for the carrying out of the council's functions. This is not a political point but a truly liberal one. It relates to the right to privacy of information on the part of providers.

The second, and in many senses the more important, set of amendments--Amendments Nos. 63, 68 and 252--relates to the powers of the learning and skills council to set charges. Currently, neither the Further Education Funding Council nor the Secretary of State has powers to impose on providers requirements as to the fees that must be charged.

Clause 6(3) consequently represents a major extension of current powers. At no stage in the development of the policies that underpin the Bill has there been any suggestion that such powers would be taken. Nor has there been any opportunity for public debate about either the Government's objectives in introducing controls on provider fees or about the way in which such powers may be used.

The introduction of controls of this kind would represent a considerable erosion of the autonomy of further education colleges and an almost unprecedented interference with the rights of private training providers to establish their own fees structures. It would take away one of the few options open to providers in tailoring provision to local market needs--not just in setting open market fees but also in negotiating with employers on a shared responsibility for some types of publicly desirable trading such as NVQs. As drafted, the clause would appear to permit the LSC to impose different arrangements on different providers and, in doing so, impose unequal or unfair conditions on some individual providers or some classes of providers as compared to others.

Without any indication from the Government as to the rationale for such a policy, the case for the imposition of conditions on fees has not been made. Although there may be justification for imposing common arrangements in some specific areas where forms of public funding are involved--such as individual learning accounts--no such explanation has been offered. Equally, although there may be a case for curbing some of the more extreme examples of fees policies seen in recent years both in the FE sector and among the private training providers, it is difficult to see how any national fees scheme could work. Market conditions vary enormously across the country and in different areas of vocational education and training. No single pricing regime could work without having different effects in different areas. For example, relatively high fees may be feasible in the south-east where incomes are high and the economy is buoyant but may have a disastrous effect on participation in depressed areas of Merseyside. Therefore, this series of amendments seeks elucidation from the Government as to precisely what they have in mind. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The learning and skills council will pass considerable sums of taxpayers' money--some £6 billion a year--to a wide range of providers of education and training. The Government believe it is essential that the council should be able to establish whether these funds have been used properly and in accordance with the conditions on which they have been given. If public funds have not been used properly the council will be able to take steps to recover them. Amendment No. 67 would restrict the exercise of the council's right of access to its statutory functions. The council is to be a statutory corporation created by Parliament and it may exercise only those powers granted to it by Parliament. This is a well-established principle of law. I have no problem with the concern that lies behind the amendment. For example, if the LSC funds workplace training at a major company--for example a car-maker or supermarket--clearly it is wrong for it to rummage through documents that deal with entirely unrelated and perhaps confidential manufacturing or retailing processes. But the amendment is unnecessary because this kind of behaviour would clearly not be permitted under the Bill.

The Government believe that the remaining amendments will add considerably to bureaucracy and, although genuine, are misconceived. Under Clause 25 the Secretary of State may attach conditions to the grants that he makes to the council. Those conditions will in turn apply when financial resources are passed on to providers. It would be bizarre to require the Secretary of State to make statutory instruments to approve LSC conditions of funding which he had made in the first place. These amendments would require every change in a condition to come back to the Secretary of State, who would have to make a new order to amend previous orders, and so on and so forth. That is a waste of everybody's time, not least that of Parliament and this Chamber, and is hardly consistent with the concerns that noble Lords have expressed about excessive bureaucracy.

But, more generally, these arrangements impose constraints upon the ability of the LSC to exercise flexible judgments about the financial agreements that it needs to reach with providers. By comparison, currently the FEFCs have a financial relationship with a relatively homogenous group of providers, principally further education colleges and some institutions in the higher education sector. The LSC, through its local bodies, will have direct financial relationships with several thousand providers, including employers, colleges, LEAs and voluntary organisations. To work properly it must have the ability to tailor its arrangements and should be able to do this flexibly. The Government believe that it would be inappropriate to impose on those arrangements a superstructure of statutory bureaucracy. I hope that that explains to some extent the rationale behind this part of the Bill and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for his explanation, but I cannot say that I am satisfied on either count. The advice that I received from some of our lawyers in relation to the first matter was that the powers in the Bill were extremely sweeping and there was a case for curbing them.

As to the second issue, I am disturbed because Clause 6 (3) represents a major extension of current powers. I shall withdraw the amendment for the present, but we may wish to return to it at the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 10:45 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 64:

Page 4, line 15, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--

("(a) require any person receiving financial resources from the Council to provide the Council with such documents as requested by the Council as relate to their application for that financial resource;").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Perhaps I could start by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that I would have supported her very warmly on all the arguments she put. The whole of Clause 6 is extremely worrying. I think the autonomy of further education colleges and training providers is going to be seriously inhibited by it. The noble Lord the Minister is always eloquent on all these occasions, but he used a phrase which may resonate rather nervously outside this Chamber. He said that he would not want people to go rummaging around people's computers and files and all the rest of it for irrelevant material. I would not want them to go rummaging around even for relevant material.

Clause 6(1) says that if the council itself provides financial resources it may impose conditions, which may include "any provisions described below". Clause 6(2)(a) refers to designated people being allowed access to a person's accounts and documents, and also to a person's computers and associated apparatus and material. That can only be done by gaining access to premises and there is absolutely nothing here about how that would be done, whether under licence or with some kind of permit. This simply is an unacceptable paragraph and I think that it should come out.

I have no quarrel with the principle that where a provider is grant aided or receives money from the council there should be an obligation to provide all that the council may need that is relevant to the way in which it disposes of those funds and the way it uses them, given that the council would only grant aid or allocate funds on the basis of a specific remit to achieve a particular service which would have been specified at the outset.

I have no quarrel with the idea that the provider must be accountable and that there should be an obligation to provide information to the council. Therefore, Amendment No. 64 would include any training providers receiving financial resources from the council being obliged to provide the council with such documents requested by the council as relate to their application for that financial resource. I think there is a very real issue here of autonomy and of access. Quite frankly, the method by which this information could be provided is very debatable. I believe that the wording in my amendment should be substituted for the wording in Clause 6(2)(a). I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

If your Lordships agree to this amendment, I shall be unable to call Amendments Nos. 65 to 67.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The Government feel that circumstances covered in the noble Baroness's amendment do not exist in the real world. It would remove the provision giving the LSC access rights to any person it funds and substitute that with a bit of a mouse; that is, a requirement for potential providers to provide no more than information relating to an application for funding. The persons would include LEAs, FE colleges and private providers. The LSC will need powers of access for audit and related purposes connected with the proper use of council funds. An inability to seek assurance that funds are being used properly could severely hamper its ability to claw back funding which has been improperly used and put a large amount of taxpayers' money at risk.

We argue that the simple reality is that the effect of Amendment No. 64 would be to deny the council the ability to inspect relevant providers' records, whether written or held on computers so as to establish whether taxpayers' money had been used properly. That is rather irresponsible and not something that any government could do. On that basis, we resist the noble Baroness's amendment and hope that she will withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That was a disappointing answer. The Minister gave no explanation of his meaning of "access". Can the council force access? Can it break in? Can it hack any computer?

As I pointed out when I spoke to the amendment, I have no difficulty with someone who receives public funds being accountable for the use of those funds and being obliged under the law to provide the information required for audit purposes and/or the local council's satisfaction that those funds were being used for the purpose for which they were given.

The Bill does not define the kind of person referred to. It could be the caretaker, the cleaner or anyone. The council designates "a person" and allows him access to a person's accounts. No one could see my accounts without breaking into my home. And if that person broke into my home he would not see those accounts unless he broke into my computer. And he could only break into my computer if he hacked into my password. Is that the power being given to the learning skills council? If so, it is important that the Minister explains what he means by "access".

If I were in receipt of funding from the council for a purpose laid down by the council, I am proposing an obligation under the law to provide the council with all the information it needs as evidence that I am using that money for the purposes for which it was given. If I broke that law it would be for the law enforcers to deal with and not some undefined member of the council to come to my home, the premises of a private company, or an FE college and simply force access. It is important that the noble Lord spells out precisely what the provision means in practice.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness--although my accounts are far less interesting than hers must be!

We share strongly the concern. I do not argue with the noble Baroness about which of our amendments is the most appropriate. What is appropriate is the concern we share. Neither of us may yet have found the right words for an amendment. But can the Minister tell us--I do not know the answer--where else in legislation similar powers are granted to funding bodies? If he cannot answer tonight, perhaps he will let us know before the next stage of the Bill. I am sure that it is a subject to which we shall wish to return. The powers granted here seem excessive and draconian. We should not lightly let them pass.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Perhaps it is the lateness of the hour, but Members of the Committee are becoming somewhat overwrought on the issue. The noble Lord asks for examples. The provision is similar to the funding conditions from the FEFC and TEC funding contracts. There is nothing unusual in what the Government suggest here. The terms will be in the conditions of funding set out by the LSC in the normal way. As I have already said, these funding conditions are similar to those already in existence in law. The obligations go hand in hand with the obligations accompanying the provision of public funds. It is surely the duty of the Government to protect public funds.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I believe that I have already said to the Minister that I, too, think it is the duty of the Government to protect public funds. However, as set out, this is an unacceptable power. The Minister still has not told the Committee whether in certain circumstances there could be forced entry, how that would be done or what definition is in place of a person who could be designated to hack into a computer or break into a company to seek access to their funds. It is important that this point is clearly understood. Once we have reached a clear understanding, it is also important that a better form of words is put onto the face of the Bill.

Very small companies are doing their best to co-operate with New Deal programmes and various other training programmes. As it stands, those companies may come to believe that the Bill contains an unwieldy power enabling a person to break into a company to seek information even without any real grounds for suspicion. It appears that such a person has a right of access to a company's equipment.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The noble Baroness is correct to the extent that I did not reply in exact terms. I did say, and I shall repeat it now, that those terms will be set out in the funding conditions set out by the LSC. However, I accept that the noble Baroness deserves more than that. Following the Committee stage of the Bill, I shall write to her with any further detailed information I can give in relation to the kind of powers being sought here. It is a fair request and I shall try to answer it fairly.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. However, I am not seeking details on the powers being sought; I wish to learn how they are to be exercised. I am also seeking a definition of what kind of person could be designated by the LSC to carry out what in fact will be breaking and entering into private property. However, I shall now withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 68 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Funding of school sixth-forms]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 5, line 11, at end insert--

("( ) Where an education authority has existing sixth form provision the Council must make a grant per sixth form pupil consistent with real terms value as defined in the average of the three financial years 1999-2001.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

This amendment seeks to persuade the Government to put on the face of the Bill what they have said in practice. On a number of occasions I have invited the Minister to confirm that funding for sixth-form pupils would be sustained per pupil rather than for the entire sixth form in real terms.

On the last occasion that we had an exchange on this point, I recall that the noble Baroness said something along the lines of, "Yes, dependent on the numbers". My proposition does not depend on numbers. If the funding is to be made per pupil, then whether the numbers are high or low the authority will receive real terms funding. However, as I understand the Bill, if the numbers begin to fall then the school may fall victim to the possibility of a notice being published for the sixth form to close. However, that is a debate for another day.

For the moment, the amendment states,

"Where an education authority has existing sixth form provision-- ahead of any publication of a notice to close--

"the Council must make a grant per sixth form pupil consistent with real terms value as defined in the average of the three financial years 1999-2001".

That is also a point at issue between these Benches and the Government; namely, the Government have taken one year as a baseline. However, we all know of the injustices that can arise out of using only a single year. It is much fairer to take an average over three years. Some schools probably had a very lean year this year and it would be unfair to use that as a base line if it was never meant to be sustained over a period. Therefore, there seems to be an argument for referring to the average over the previous three years.

There is a concern because, as I said earlier, as far as I know, there is no plan to put in extra funding for this provision. The money will be top-sliced at national level and will be given to the National Council, which will then send it down the line administratively to 47 local skills councils, which will then send it down the line to even more local education authorities, which will then fund the individual schools with sixth forms. There will be some dissipation of that money as it goes down the line unless extra money for its administration is found.

If LEAs receive less money than would have been the case had they received it through the normal grant-in-aid from the Government under the present system, they have a painful decision to make. It is difficult to reconcile the Government's promise that expenditure will be sustained in real terms per pupil if it is not matched with the kind of funding which would be needed in order for it to travel from government via a circuitous route through to the schools. There is great nervousness in the schools.

As I believe I said at Third Reading, many of us--and I include myself among them--believe that, although it may take a while, this represents a death knell for our sixth forms. I know that the noble Baroness said with every sincerity at Second Reading that sixth forms will form part of the tapestry of provision for 16-plus education. However, I have known the noble Baroness for a very long time. We met at educational meetings long before she and I came to this place. Indeed, we met back in the days when I was in local government and even before my time in local government. I know that at times it has been a policy aim of the noble Baroness, or at least a policy that the noble Baroness has supported in the past, to move to a tertiary system for sixth-form education. Indeed, that has also been the policy of many of her colleagues who now find themselves in government. Therefore, I believe that there is genuine concern and nervousness among people.

Lest it be misinterpreted, I do not want anyone to believe that the only provision that I would support for young people who are passing through school is to go into sixth forms. I believe that for many young people that is wholly inappropriate. Very often young people who choose to stay on in sixth-form education have not been properly advised and guided. They could be better placed by moving either into workplace training or into further education. Therefore, I have no wish to be branded as someone who considers that sixth form is the only provision. However, I believe very strongly that sixth forms must remain part of the tapestry of provision of education. That can be so only if they are funded in real terms at the rate at which they have been funded on average over the past three years.

My final point is that there is a very real worry about the ways in which funding will be used to cause the demise of those schools. Certainly, my next amendment, which is linked with this amendment, proposes that,

"Grants made under this section must be earmarked for individual schools or colleges".

I say that because the schools and colleges themselves are now concerned that money will simply come down in a block. In the past, when the local education authority has held the money, it has funded each school, whether it be a school for 11 to 16 year-olds or for 11 to 18 year-olds.

Now, all schools will be funded on an 11 to 16 basis and that separate funding will come through a separate system--as I said, a circuitous system--which will fund the sixth forms. Therefore, not only will schools be uncertain about what their grant will be for pupils up to the age of 16, but also those with sixth forms will be concerned about whether they will receive a fair allocation for post-16 pupils. Therefore, individual schools and colleges will be extremely concerned about their funding stream. It is important. If the reassurances that have been given already by the noble Baroness could be put on the face of the Bill, fears would be laid to rest and much anxiety would be assuaged. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I shall take the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness together. Clause 7 will secure the LSC's power to fund LEAs in respect of school sixth form provision. For the financial year 2000-01, funding for school sixth forms amounts to some £1.22 billion.

In the consultation paper on school sixth form funding which was issued last summer we made it clear that our objective was to raise standards and to tackle poorly performing institutions, which is something that I am sure the noble Baroness would endorse. We are committed to having a strong and effective sixth form sector as part of our drive to increase success for all our young people. We want young people to have the opportunity to gain access to a broad learning programme, including A-levels and vocational qualifications, wherever they live. We also want the funding arrangements for school sixth forms to be as transparent and straightforward as possible.

I repeat that sixth forms will be part of the tapestry of provision. The noble Baroness asked about views that I may have expressed on this subject at various times in the past. I have always thought, as she has just admitted--she did not want to be misunderstood--that sixth form colleges provide extraordinarily good provision for many young people, as do generalist FE colleges. We seek choice and diversity.

In the consultation document to which I have just referred, we sought views on whether LEAs should in future be funded for school sixth forms by the LSC, or whether they should continue to be funded through the local government finance system. In the light of responses received, in particular from head teachers, we have decided that funding for school sixth forms should be allocated to LEAs by the LSC. The LSC will also fund colleges and other providers of education and training to young people. For 16 to 19 year-olds, schools and colleges tend to provide the same type of teaching, curriculum and qualifications. Broadening the LSC's remit to include the funding of LEAs for school sixth form provision will bring greater coherence to the overall funding of 16 to 19 year-old provision in England.

I can reassure the noble Baroness that individual schools will continue to receive their allocation of funds from the LEA, just as they do now. Those changes will not be introduced until 2002-03 at the earliest, and in planning for them we shall be working closely with LEAs, schools and others. Through that process we shall define more clearly the LSC's role in distributing funding to LEAs and establishing criteria for the allocation formulae for distributing funding down to individual schools.

We have repeatedly said that current levels of funding for school sixth forms would be at least maintained in real terms where student numbers do not fall. I make that pledge again today. But we do not believe, as Amendments Nos. 69 and 70 appear to propose, that primary legislation is the appropriate place for making guarantees of this kind. I do not believe that it is ever used in that way.

We have also said that the new funding system should not constrain the scope for expansion of successful sixth forms. We intend that a rise in pupil numbers should give rise to additional funding. Whether the addition could be on a fully pro rata basis--the key point--would depend on the availability of resources at the time. It would be wrong to introduce a system that takes no account at all of the degree to which pupil numbers may fall or rise over a period of time. Furthermore, I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that it would be irresponsible for any government to give absolute guarantees about the availability of future public funding.

Amendment No. 69 also seeks to define a three-year period--1999-2001--as the baseline against which the real terms funding guarantee for school sixth forms will be set. The noble Baroness raised questions on that matter. I can say to the noble Baroness that we are consulting at present on a number of details around the way the changes to sixth form funding will be implemented. One specific question on which we are seeking views is the appropriate baseline period for calculating the real terms funding safeguard. It would be premature to undermine the consultative process by accepting this amendment when we have not yet had the opportunity to consider the views of all those who will be affected by the proposed new arrangements.

Amendment No. 70 would reduce the role of the LEA to a mere post box, rather than continue to recognise, as we do, the LEA function of making allocations to individual schools. It is also unnecessary, given that we have been quite clear that our real terms funding guarantee will apply--again I want to give this reassurance to the noble Baroness--school by school, and not just in aggregate. I would add in passing that I am slightly confused to find a reference specifically to "colleges" in an amendment to a clause concerned with the funding of schools with sixth forms.

In the light of what I have said, and the reassurance I have been able to give, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not press her amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I entirely accept the explanation given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that the appropriate period is under discussion. My understanding was that the Government were minded to take a particular view. That had caused some concern. So I am grateful for that. Of course I accept that that will take some time. The amendment will have to wait.

I was talking recently to the head of a school with a sixth form who had responded to the consultation paper about these arrangements. He admitted that there was a good deal of welcome for the proposals. It was interesting to learn the basis on which he said that that welcome came. He said that he was fairly unhappy about the way the sixth form was being funded at the moment through the LEA, and the fact that core funding for schools was being cut all the time. He saw this proposal as a lifeline. It gave him high expectations. He thought the school's funding would be more secure and better guaranteed if it came from national funds specifically for sixth forms, instead of coming from the LEA through the block grant. I have to say that, if that is a commonly held belief--which I understand it to be--it is naive in the extreme. I have seen and heard nothing to convince me that there is going to be a more generous stream of money coming down through the system.

The noble Baroness suggested that Amendment No. 70 would reduce the role of the LEA to a mere post box. I have to say that that is pretty well what they are going to be. This is money that, although originally allocated to LEAs through the block grant, is going to be taken by the Government and given to the national council. It will then be given to the local schools councils. It will then be given to the respective LEA. Finally, it will be given to the schools. One cannot say that the schools will be funded to the same value, depending on what baseline is actually chosen, and then expect an LEA to use its discretion not to fund to that value. One can say that the LEAs will be given sufficient money to sustain that level of value, but what the LEAs do is a matter for them. Nor can we say that the schools are to be given some guarantee.

At this moment I would argue that the children, the parents, the staff and the governors of the school are concerned about the outcome of these policies, and not, I suggest, the mechanism for getting the money to them. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that schools can be assured that they will receive this money. The only guarantee the Government will not give--and I understand that--is an absolute guarantee for unknown numbers of pupils who will appear in the system in the future. The reassurances that have been given in the past fit ill if the money coming down this route can be dissipated on the way.

The Minister has given me enough to enable me to withdraw the amendment because I know that the discussions continue. But I shall return to it before the end of the passage of this Bill. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 11:15 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 5, line 17, at end insert--

("( ) Prior to imposing conditions made under subsection (2) above, the Council shall consult providers or their representative organisations, whichever is the most appropriate for the circumstances concerned.

( ) In imposing conditions made under subsection (2) above, the Council shall have regard to any guidance from the Secretary of State.").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

The LSC will in the future be providing the funding for school sixth forms and understandably it is given power to develop schemes for assessing their performance. It will presumably then base its funding decisions on the results of those assessments. I have no problem with that, though I have anxieties as to how it will work in practice.

The purpose of Amendment No. 71 is to ask that, before the LSC imposes the conditions which it will be empowered to make under subsection (2), it should first consult with the,

"providers or their representative organisations, whichever is the most appropriate for the circumstances concerned", and,

"In imposing [such] conditions ... have regard to any guidance from the Secretary of State".

I am sure that that will be the case in any event, but I seek assurances from the Minister on both those points and perhaps those assurance will best be given on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

Amendment No. 71 proposes that the LSC must consult providers or their representative bodies before it imposes any conditions on the way grant for school sixth form provision may be used, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, explained.

Given that LEAs secure but do not directly provide school sixth form provision, the amendment would in effect require the LSC to consult some 1,800 individual schools with sixth forms or their LEAs or their representatives before being able to make grant to LEAs for their school sixth forms. That would add another layer of bureaucracy to the system when we are trying to simplify the way post-16 learning is organised and funded. We expect the LSC to work closely with providers and their representatives, including schools and LEAs, and to take account of their views in determining their funding and conditions of funding. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord about the Government's intentions.

But that should be a flexible and dynamic process. It should not be weighed down by a lot of administration and, as a consequence, delay. We do not believe that statutory obligations to consult on the detail of the conditions of individual grants are helpful or necessary. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am not suggesting that they should necessarily consult on each grant, but certainly they should consult before conditions are imposed.

I will not rise to the bait that the Minister suggests to me; that is, that I am imposing extra bureaucracy. Indeed, in the light of the comments I made at the beginning of this afternoon I resist that suggestion strongly. I know from personal experience that some discussion before a specific condition as envisaged under Clause 7(2) is imposed, can considerably cut down time and thereby reduce rather than increase subsequent bureaucracy.

Of course I shall not press the amendment at this time. But I am disappointed that the Minister did not recognise the legitimate concern that exists in schools and school sixth forms in having conditions imposed upon them which may not be appropriate or fully considered or understood. Nobody is looking for consultation processes. They are seeking not to have conditions imposed upon them without reference and without discussions.

I hope the Minister will consider this matter a little further. Whether it is necessary to have something on the face of the Bill can perhaps be discussed, but the point is well made. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Links between education and training and employment]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 5, line 18, after ("of") insert ("appropriate").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 74. I return to a theme which we discussed earlier; namely, that where provision is secured it should be appropriate. That refers to Clause 8 which states:

"The Council may secure the provision of facilities for the gaining of work experience by young persons receiving education".

I say "appropriate" for the same reasons: that it is more satisfactory for the individual; more fruitful in outcome; and the person is more likely to benefit and become a positive, contributory member of society. Therefore, it makes sense. We know that simply securing the provision of facilities can sometimes be inappropriate. It is worth putting on the face of the Bill that it should be appropriate.

Amendment No. 74 is important. Again we are talking about flexibility for people with learning disabilities. Clause 8(2) states,

"The Council may secure the provision of facilities designed to form links between (on the one hand) employers and (on the other) persons falling within subsection (3)".

That is a very important provision in terms of people with disabilities and learning difficulties. Making the link between education, training and the employer can be extremely troublesome for some people. They need a great deal of help. Again, we have a dead cut-off point at the age of 19. All the arguments have already been deployed. Persons with learning difficulties should have more flexibility. Therefore, there should be some accommodation up to the age of 25. I would like there to be no distinction at all. When we had the fairly drawn-out debate about the distinction between "proper" and "reasonable", I understood from the Minister that that argument has now passed by. For this group of people some flexibility to the age of 25 is important. I hope that the Minister will be accommodating in her response.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

I support Amendments Nos. 74 and 91. As the experience of Mencap's Pathway employment service demonstrates, some young people need on-the-job coaching before they can make the best of work experience opportunities or they may need training in how to apply for a placement or how to obtain one. It may be something as fundamental as requiring support to decide the kind of work they wish to try. Even with the best intentions, this is a complex area which should command considerable commitment from government, which I hope will be forthcoming. If people feel that they are short of experience in this particular department, Mencap will be more than happy to give them any information in this regard which has been garnered from the experience of a quarter of a century in placing people with learning disabilities in open employment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I support Amendments Nos. 73 and 75 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and myself. In many senses, they duplicate the amendments already put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I endorse what she said about the need for work experience to be appropriate. We have already covered that in our earlier discussions. As regards the second matter, our proposal is not just that the facility should be applied to the disabled, but that there should be flexibility for all over the age of 19 for the reasons that we have discussed earlier. There are some who miss out on educational experiences and for whom work experience is appropriate even though they are over the age of 19. I support what has already been said and make that extra point.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 72 to 74 and 91 together because they all relate to the power of the LSC under Clause 8 in providing facilities for work experience and for education business links. I was delighted to hear the endorsement that was given by all those who have spoken to these amendments about the value of work experience for many young people.

Amendments Nos. 72 and 73 are really unnecessary in the context of this kind of statutory power. In fact, it would be unreasonable for the LSC to secure inappropriate facilities for work experience or, alternatively, to secure facilities for inappropriate work experience. This much is implicit within the provision as it stands. A statutory organisation must, as a general principle, act reasonably. I hope that I am making myself clear in this respect.

Amendment No. 75 proposes that the Secretary of State may extend the power to secure facilities for work experience for an older group. Our intention in the clause as drafted is to maintain and develop existing initiatives designed to give young people in schools and of school age valuable insight into working environments and to inform their career choices. This is explicitly about young people of school age.

Employers, LEAs and schools have been working together for a number of years, including through Education Business Partnerships. A whole range of activities are now in place at local level, enabling pupils to gain valuable insights into the world of work and to inform their career choices. Employers report very considerable benefits from these activities.

Clause 111, which gives further education corporations further powers to collaborate with schools and others in the provision of secondary education, will help increase the number of young people who benefit from vocational learning and links with the world of work.

As regards adults, equivalent opportunities are already available as part of FE, where a substantial amount of provision is vocational and provides links for all learners between the worlds of work and learning. Similarly, such arrangements would be entirely superfluous to the needs of people who are undertaking training where contact with employers and the business world are all part and parcel of the learning experience. I hope, therefore, that Members of the Committee will see that they have no need to press any of these amendments.

There remains the issue of how these powers will relate to the particular needs of those with learning difficulties, as raised by Amendments Nos. 73 and 91. I shall deal, first, with the amendment that proposes to extend the LSC's power to provide for education-business links up to the age of 25, in the case of students with learning difficulties.

I have already described the vocational focus of a great deal of FE and training where very strong links between colleges, training providers and employers have, I am glad to say, been developed and sustained over a great many years. This has benefited learners over a broad age range and with a range of needs, including people with learning difficulties and disabilities. Further education colleges work hard at developing links with business. Indeed, such contact is a core element in some courses and is often a central and intrinsic part of any training experience.

I must once again state that I see no reason for Clause 8 to provide for those over the age of 19. I say again, the purpose of Clause 8 is to allow the LSC to support and expand education-business activities for young people in schools, as well as to continue to build on the work of the FEFC and TECs in respect of those of school age who are in post-16 learning. I believe that this amendment is, therefore, inappropriate and I hope that the noble Baroness will not press it.

However, I take a rather different view of Amendment No. 91 to Clause 13. The question is whether the LSC should have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties, as it does when securing its main duties under Clauses 2 and 3, when exercising its powers to provide for work experience and education-business links. I have considerable sympathy with this point and I would accept the principle behind it. However, I should like to reflect further on the precise wording of the amendment and return on Report with a government amendment. I trust that Members of the Committee will be content to proceed on that basis.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 11:30 pm, 8th February 2000

I am grateful for the Minister's comments with regard to Clause 8. This is not a complicated amendment. It simply seeks to link employment with education and training. If all three could be incorporated as measures to which the council had to have regard, that would be helpful. I hear what the Minister said with regard to what one would expect anyone acting reasonably to do. However, we all know of work experience that is not so "inappropriate" that it could be seriously challenged. Many people are adaptable and they can make effective use of almost any experience. However, I am concerned about more vulnerable people, in particular those with disabilities. I hope that the Government will consider introducing some flexibility in regard to provision for those below and above the age of 19 and will consider the importance of work experience being appropriate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 73 to 75 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Assessments and means tests]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 76:

Divide Clause 9 into two clauses, the first (Assessments) to consist of subsections (1) and (2) and the second (Means tests) to consist of subsections (3) and (4).

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

This is a minor amendment. Clause 9 as drafted deals with two totally separate issues; namely, assessments of providers and setting means tests. We believe that it makes sense to divide the clause into two clauses dealing with those two separate issues. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Although we have some sympathy with the thought which gives rise to this amendment, the fact of the matter is that the provisions it contains are adequately and appropriately drafted. We cannot see that the amendment would make any material improvement. Indeed, on the contrary, it would unnecessarily break apart two sets of provisions which both explicitly relate to the LSC's funding powers under Clause 5. I hope that that will persuade the noble Baroness not to press her amendment to a vote.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I am not really persuaded but I can see that parliamentary counsel are formidable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Further education: governors]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

In moving Amendment No. 77 I wish to speak also to the other government amendments that are grouped with it. However, in speaking to these amendments I shall refer also to the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

The Secretary of State and the National Assembly announced last year, as part of the revised accountability framework for further education colleges, that the FEFCE and FEFCW should be able to intervene at individual colleges by nominating up to two governors. We intend the LSC and the CETW to have the same capability but that they should have the power to appoint up to two additional members to any college governing body as they consider necessary. This power will allow the LSC and CETW to intervene, for example, where they consider that there might be mismanagement or potential mismanagement by the governing body, or where there are signs that the educational provision at the college is failing, before the problem becomes so serious as to warrant intervention by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly, and to threaten the provision of post-16 education, as was the case, regrettably, at Halton, Bilston and Gwent Colleges.

The key reason for this provision is, as I have said, to allow the councils to intervene early. Amendment No. 79 would restrict this power to the point that it would be quite useless. If the criteria required for the Secretary of State's intervention under Section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act had to be satisfied before the LSC could exercise this power, he could himself act and there would be no need for the LSC to do so. But it would mean that the opportunity to address problems at an early stage had been missed and cases such as those I have mentioned might be repeated. I therefore must resist this amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

The power of appointment should not be restricted to vacancies only. If there was no vacancy the councils could not act. Even if there were to be a vacancy it may not be appropriate for the LSC or the CETW to make an appointment to it, for example if the vacancy was for an elected staff or a student member. In such cases we would be denying staff and students the opportunity to be represented.

Amendments Nos. 78 and 164 give the LSC and the CETW the power to make appointments of up to two additional members direct to any governing body, whatever size it may be and irrespective of any vacancies. Appointments would take effect immediately.

The amendment to Clause 11 also clarifies that the LSC may only intervene at colleges which mainly serve students from England, as opposed to those serving students in Wales. Amendment No. 164 provides similarly for the CETW in Wales. This ensures that there is no overlap of responsibility: a college cannot mainly serve two countries at the same time.

Amendments Nos. 247, 248 and 249, which affect the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, are consequential to this provision. At present, that Act only makes provision for governing bodies themselves to appoint members, except in the special circumstances that apply to former voluntary aided sixth-form colleges under Section 30. The amendments to Sections 29 and 31 of the Schedule to the Act are necessary so that the instruments of government for designated institutions and further education corporations can include provision for governors appointed by the LSC or CETW. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I speak to Amendment No. 79, which is also in this grouping. We thank the Minister for her explanation and for the clarification involved, but we are still not completely convinced by what she said. Clause 11(2) at present gives unconstrained powers to allow the learning and skills council to appoint up to two governors to any or all colleges within the further education sector. That seems an unreasonable interference with the autonomy of individual colleges and is inconsistent with the Government's declared policy of intervention only in inverse proportion to success.

The Secretary of State will have powers to intervene under the amended Section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, including the power to dismiss existing governors or to appoint new governors on his initiative. No explanation has been given as to why it is necessary for the learning and skills council to have parallel powers to those of the Secretary of State. The amendment would restrict the powers of appointment to those situations in which the Secretary of State has the power to act; in other words, where colleges are having serious problems of mismanagement; where there is a failure to discharge a statutory duty; where the governors are acting unreasonably; or where there are serious weaknesses. In that sense, our amendment is totally reasonable.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. She has gone further than I have in trying to at least bring forward some rationale for the use of the power whilst at the same time querying the power. All that we know is that there is a power to appoint additional members to a governing body; the conditions under which the power would be used are not spelt out in any way. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, there are other powers in statutes. I do not see the repeal of those powers anywhere in this Bill.

No trigger mechanism is set out. We do not know what would trigger the concern; on what basis that would happen; what would be the process; or what consultation would take place with the governing body. It is an open-ended power that allows the council to add, either objectively or subjectively, additional governors to the governing body.

I know of the powers in the previous Act and I know the reason for them. There are real examples--the Minister has already referred to one or two of them--where FE colleges have quite clearly needed some external influence in bringing sanity to bear on their management arrangements. At the same time, the way in which Clause 11 is set out is really not acceptable. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and shall accept the government amendments so far as they go, but when I first read the Bill, the idea that the council could simply fill vacancies was entirely unacceptable.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

There really is some misunderstanding here. I have tried to explain that there have been a number of highly regrettable cases where the governing bodies of large FE colleges have failed to ensure that the quality of provision, standards and probity in relation to financial activities that we all require from an FE college have been pursued properly. Where it looks as if things are going wrong, it is entirely right that the LSC, which is to be the frontline body in close contact with providers, should be able to intervene early and provide for additional governors to help remedy the situation.

There can be no question of the LSC filling normal vacancies. That is not what the provision is about. It is a last resort measure when a governing body of an FE college is failing in its duty. It would be completely wrong for noble Lords opposite to oppose amendments which are entirely designed to try to make sure that we have an adequate system on which we can rely and can intervene to prevent the kind of failures that have been happening, I am afraid, with some regularity under the existing system. In the light of what I have said, I greatly hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will not press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for her response. The powers are seen to be somewhat draconian in relation to what is proposed. I shall not move the amendment, but I shall read in Hansard what the Minister has said and I shall look more carefully at the government amendments. We may want to return to the matter at Report stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

moved Amendments No. 78:

Page 6, line 9, leave out subsection (1).

Page 6, line 13, leave out ("fill the vacancy") and insert ("be a member of the governing body of an institution which--

(a) falls within the further education sector (within the meaning given by section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992), and

(b) mainly serves the population of England").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 79 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 11, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My name is on the Marshalled List as opposing the clause. I did not make myself clear enough to the Minister when I responded to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I referred to the way in which I read the Bill when it was first drafted. The Minister has tonight amended the Bill. It provided at the outset that the council would have the power to fill vacancies. I said that I was somewhat relieved that it was not the case that the body would be given the power to fill vacancies.

In speaking to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I said that I wholly accept the need to do something externally by way of putting in extra governors--that is one mechanism which has worked. It has certainly worked in some grant-maintained schools in the past and it seemed a proper way to go about it. But this clause does not say that. It does not specify the conditions under which that power will be exercised. It gives no indication of what would be the trigger for such a power to be exercised.

It is extremely important that if there is to be a clause in the Bill giving power to the council to add additional governors, it must, either in subsections, a schedule, or by means of regulation, set out the rationale for the power. In other words, if the power applies where the behaviour or lack of control of a governing body is such that a further education college is not being managed well by its governing body, it is entirely legitimate. But something along those lines should be on the face of the Bill and not simply an open-ended invitation to the council and power to add additional members. That is why I oppose the clause and why I believe it should be amended and brought back.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 11:45 pm, 8th February 2000

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining what she meant with regard to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. I apologise if I slightly misconstrued what she had to say.

This is an important clause. The Government and the National Assembly for Wales announced, following the Public Accounts Committee hearings on Halton College and Gwent Tertiary College respectively, that the further education funding councils would be given the power to nominate up to two governors to any college governing body as they thought necessary. That measure was introduced on 11th October 1999 in both England and Wales. We consider that the LSC and CETW should have the same capability. That is what it is about.

Perhaps it should not surprise us that the noble Baroness opposes this clause. It is after all a provision to allow early intervention in colleges to prevent failure and to deal with poor management before it has a serious effect on provision. Our inheritance on taking office was one of sleaze and mismanagement in the further education sector, allowed to flourish by a government who took a back seat whenever they could. We have made every effort to tackle these problems since taking office, but have had to face the serious and much publicised cases that I have mentioned. Unfortunately, these have been the tip of the iceberg. At far too many of our colleges we have found low standards of provision and the improper use of public funds. In dealing with the backlog of failure we have been hampered by the present statutory provisions.

The lack of control which the previous administration had over the sector and the hands-off approach that they took led directly to the problems at these colleges lasting so long and getting completely out of control. The funding councils had been hindered by inadequate powers to intervene. We need to applaud excellence, but we also have to deal swiftly with failure. No one should doubt our determination to do so.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State's powers to intervene when a college is in difficulty are a last resort. All too often by the time mismanagement or failure is drawn to his attention it is too late to avoid some adverse effect on the quality of education or the proper use of public funds. We want the frontline body with immediate responsibility for the management of the sector to be able to intervene quickly and effectively. We consider that a power to appoint up to two governors is necessary to allow the LSC or CETW to intervene and influence governing bodies where they are aware that there are existing or potential problems. That is the point.

Perhaps I may reassure the noble Baroness. I am absolutely convinced that the LSC would not wish to use this power except in such circumstances. It is not a power that we would expect to be used frequently, nor one that should be used lightly. But its availability may prevent a problem becoming deep-rooted, leading to more widespread failure that could have a serious impact on students. Unfortunately, I am only too aware how the education of large numbers of students has been blighted. I have seen the representatives from staff and students who, through no fault of their own, have been the victims of serious mismanagement.

However, the nomination of members, as under present arrangements, will not be enough to allow rapid intervention, because appointments need to be made by the governing body and this could be delayed for several months until its next meeting. The power to nominate members already exists, but the power to appoint rests with the governing body. We simply want the LSC and CETW to be able to intervene immediately and not be delayed by the requirement that a governing body, which is in difficulty, meets to make the appointments. Every delay can make the problem worse, and in a case of possible mismanagement the governing body may even attempt to avoid the appointments for as long as six months. That is clearly unacceptable. That is why we have chosen to give the councils the power of appointment in this clause. But I should make clear that, fundamentally, this is a technical change: if we did nothing in the Bill, the LSC would have a power to nominate additional governors in the same way as the funding councils do now. The point of this provision is to make the exercise of the power more effective.

I hope that I have been able to allay the noble Baroness's concerns by my remarks both now and in response to earlier amendments to the clause. I hope that she will accept that there is advantage in intervening earlier, and that this is a power to be used only rarely and after great consideration. It is not a novel power. As the noble Baroness has said, the previous government took similar powers in respect of grant-maintained schools and used them, rightly. I realise that these powers were for the Secretary of State. However, we firmly believe that it will be more effective if the power is exercised by the body responsible for the funding and supervision of the sector. I hope that the noble Baroness will see the strength of our argument in favour of such powers and will feel able to withdraw her objection.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am disappointed that the Minister has used a briefing note that was clearly written long before we came into the Chamber today. It took no account whatever of what I said.

I believe that the Bill should contain such a power. I believe that there is a case for early intervention. I believe it is right that additional governors should be appointed. I agree with all the reasons given by the noble Baroness as a rationale. I did not disagree with any of that, and indeed I said so, not just the first time, but the second time I spoke to amendments concerning this provision.

My point is that the Bill as presently drafted does not give any of those reasons why the power should be used. There is no subsection stating how the power should be used or under what conditions. If the power is for use where there are existing and/or potential troubles brewing in the management of a further education college, Clause 11 should contain a subsection to the effect that the power is not totally open-ended and unconstrained, but is there for a reason. I do not argue with any of the reasons given by the noble Baroness in her rather long exposition. She made reference at the end to my statement that a similar power had been put on the statute book and had been used to some effect.

Philosophically, I have no objection; in practice, I have no objection. But this is an open-ended power on the face of the Bill. It will not reassure further education colleges which have enjoyed some autonomy, as the noble Baroness said. Where they are working well, we want that to continue. But there ought to be some attempt in the clause to set out how the powers would be used and what would trigger them. There should be some description of the process, even if it appeared in a schedule.

I want there to be no misunderstanding of how much I support the policy behind the clause. However, it should not remain in this form without proper qualification regarding the use of the power. If the noble Baroness has no more to say, I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.

On Question, Whether Clause 11, as amended, shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 18; Not-Contents, 8.

Division number 4

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 12:03 am, 8th February 2000

As it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 57 I declare the Question not decided and, pursuant to the Standing Order, the House will now resume. House resumed.